On December 1, Andrés Manuel López Obrado was sworn in as the new president of Mexico; he is the first leftist politician to assume the role in 70 years. In October, shortly after his election, Obrador asked the writer Pablo Ignacio Taibo II to take over as director of Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico’s large state-owned publishing house. Taiblo agreed and assumed the job at Fondo on December 1.
Taibo has written more than 40 books and is best known abroad as a mystery novelist; numerous of his books have been published in English-language translations, most recently by Restless Books. He is viewed as a controversial choice to run Fondo, which is a cornerstone of the Mexican publishing industry, one with a backlist of more than 10,000 titles, including a majority of the classics of Mexican intellectual patrimony. In addition, Fondo runs 27 bookstores across Mexico, making it the country’s third largest bookstore chain; the publisher also has 10 foreign subsidiaries, including ones in the U.S. and Spain.
“Taibo is seen as a political radical, a Zapatista and, to some, an anarchist. The fear is that he will not be a good steward of the house or its patrimony,” said one publisher who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals due to criticism in the close knit Mexican publishing community.
Others believe he will ultimately serve the public good. “He is very knowledgeable about books and publishing and running large events,” said Joaquín Díez-Canedo Flores, director general of Mexico’s largest university press, Cultura UNAM, and a former director of Fondo. “I fall in the camp that thinks he can do a good job. Yes, he is an activist, but his heart is in the right place and he has a lot of experience promoting his own books and, in several book fairs he founded, in promoting other people’s books.”
Taibo has already upset the status quo, stating publicly that he viewed many of the employees of Fondo as mere bureaucrats and dead weight, causing the staff to fear for their jobs. He has also been vocal about his detractors, including demeaning them at the recent Guadalajara International Book Fair in statements strong enough that he later felt the need to apologize.
“Yes, he has said some things that worry people, like his statement that many people who work in the house are merely bureaucrats,” said Flores, “but I think once he gets into the job he will see that many of them are hard-working professionals.”
As for publishing itself, Taibo’s initial plans including introducing bargain-priced editions of some of the publishing house’s classics in an effort to reach a broader readership.
Flores believes this outreach effort might work. “It is part of the mission of the publishing house to sustain and promote the literary patrimony of Mexico, so this might be a way to do it — of course, the questions remains whether or not the people who can’t afford to buy full priced books will still want to read these classics in cheaper editions, or even if they can read. Illiteracy remains the biggest challenge of all to the Mexican publishing industry.”